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A book everyone interested in WW1 needs to read
on 8 July 2011
There has been considerable debate on the internet about the title of this book which comes from a quote by Robert Graves of 2/Royal Welch Fusiliers who wrote: "A soldier who had the honour to serve with one of the better divisions....could count on no more than three months' trench service before being wounded or killed; a junior officer a mere six weeks". So he wasn't saying that six weeks was LIFE EXPECTANCY since only approx. a third of casualties were fatalities: but that this was how long an officer lasted before being a casualty of some kind. This has exercised quite a number of people, and alas has led them not to take the book as seriously as they should.
That quibble apart, this is a well-researched, well-written book, and it is amazing that The Great War, the most written-about war of all time surely, should have a huge gap that this book is able to fill: namely the role, life and (sadly mostly) death of the junior officer on the Western Front.
I came to this book whilst researching my grandfather's Great War. The son of a Glasgow shop-keeper, he volunteered to join the 5th Scottish Rifles in Oct 1914 as a Private, and was commissioned into the 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers in Jan 1916 as a 2nd Lieutenant, ending the war as a Captain. Wounded three times (a bullet through the arm at St Eloi, buried-alive by a howitzer-shell but dug up badly bruised and shell-shocked on the Somme, badly gassed and temporarily blinded 10 days before the end of the war) he later became a doctor, and died aged 92.
The junior British infantry officer suffered higher casualties than virtually any other class of soldier in any army during WW1, and this book has given me a unique insight into the day-to-day duties and life of unimportant junior officers such as my grandfather, who has consequently greatly risen in my estimation: I highly recommend it.